Saturday 3 January 2004

A not so Happy New Year

Many readers will no doubt have heard about the last-minute cancellation of Edinburgh's Hogmanay party:
THE world-famous Hogmanay fireworks display and concert in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens was cancelled for the first time in the 12-year history of the event last night.

In high winds which hit the city, four stewards in the gardens were injured by falling gates and pieces of debris.

My wife and I had decided to stay at home on Wednesday evening and watch the firework display from our window. I was looking forward to taking some photographs. On the way back from a lunchtime visit to the Oxford Bar I noticed that a strong southerly wind was developing. By 6pm the gusts were up to 45 mph and became stronger as the evening went on. Around 10.30 I read on the web that the whole event - the concert and the firework display - had been cancelled. I was shocked as by then the wind had died down considerably although I realised that southerly gusts could have blown fireworks onto the crowd in Princes Street.

The cancellation of the New Year event has rightly been seen as a fiasco:

Safety must, of course, always be the prime consideration at any public event. But the Hogmanay street party was a joke. This was not because of the cancellation of the fireworks (although the weather did improve significantly before the bells) nor the gig in the gardens. It was because of the attitude.

You do not tell 100,000 people, many of whom have travelled half way round the world to attend the event, to go home 75 minutes before the bells.

Perhaps it was necessary to cancel the firework display, although the wind had slackened considerably by midnight. Surely though there should have been a display the next evening when most of the foreign visitors would still have been in town. Apparently the fireworks were still usable.

More unforgivable is the lack of a proper venue for performances in Princes Street Gardens. As one of our few sensible politicians put it:

The city’s Tory leader Iain Whyte today suggested that serious questions had to be asked about whether the "crumbling" state of the Ross Bandstand played a role in the cancellation of the event.

He said: "Like many of the other culture and leisure facilities in the city, the Ross Bandstand hasn’t had much investment in recent years.

If we didn't waste so much taxpayers' money on politically correct boondoggles the city might have built an all-weather structure that would have allowed the concert to take place. Speaking of weather I read that one of the organisers had claimed that weather insurance was not obtainable because "it was an act of God". So why are there 2,770,000 references to weather insurance when you click on Google? In my advertising days I regularly arranged weather insurance to cover film shoots.

I do feel a bit sorry for Peter Irvine who has done so much for Edinburgh's tourist industry, and he did indeed warn about the state of the bandstand in the Gardens:

Pete Irvine, the director of street party organisers Unique Events, has called for the bandstand to be replaced by a permanent structure, which could be used not only for the Hogmanay concert, but for Fringe shows and other events throughout the year.

Mr Irvine’s suggestion must be taken seriously. The Ross Bandstand is an ageing structure which is obviously unsuited to modern concerts, or it would not need to be so heavily expanded for shows like the Concert in the Gardens.

The use of temporary awnings may be acceptable in fine weather conditions, but the on this occasion its instability has led to injury of four people and the cancellation of the concert at the centre of one of the world’s most famous New Year celebrations

So let's make sure we get it right next year. Get some of our large companies to sponsor a new bandstand to be ready for next winter and have a "Plan B" in the event of the weather necessitating cancellation of the firework display; don't just tell people to go home at 11pm.

At least we didn't get nuked.